Grade ‘F’ necessary for a healthy learning environment

December 13, 2010 — by Aanchal Mohan and Allison Toh

Immerse yourself into the quad of Saratoga High School, and you will most likely hear students complaining about their grades, an impossibly difficult test or the immense amount of homework they have to tackle.

The truth is, the possibility of failing motivates most students to do their best in school.
But at West Potomac High School in Virginia, the school board removed the grade “F” to make failure impossible for its students. Instead of the notorious grade, students will instead receive an “I,” standing for incomplete.

With this letter grade, students are given the opportunity to redeem themselves by catching up on the material—through similar assignments, projects, exams—throughout the year. Students can retake the class that they have failed in order to receive a better grade. At the end of the academic year, students who earned an “I” will receive an actual grade from the original A-F scale.

Removing this failing grade, however, would result in negative consequences for the school and its teacher and students. Students would no longer feel the need to work diligently as they would have without the possibility of receiving an “F” hanging over them. Also, many students who receive a grade that dissatisfies them, but does not fail the class, are put at a disadvantage because only failing students are given the option of retaking a course for a better grade.

In reality, the results of this new system would differ depending on the school environment.
At a school like Saratoga High, such a system would have little to no significant impact. Most students here are motivated by the fear of not getting into their dream college, and will continue to work harder even if there were no “F”s . The only difference would be a slight downgrade of pressure for a certain class, because an “F” can be replaced.

But at a school where the dropout rate is high, this new system would have a more significant impact.

Some students would now feel less pressured to drop out now that they know that even if they fail a class they still have the opportunity to retake the class and not have to worry about an F being on their transcripts. Because of this new system, dropout rates could potentially be lowered, benefiting everyone.

Although there are benefits, teachers would lose one of their prime tools for motivating their students to learn; instead, teachers are forced to reward students who slack off. Because tests would be a less accurate source of the students’ understanding, teachers would not know what they need to work on to improve their teaching skills or what sections need to be covered in further detail and depth.

Even though the idea of not receiving of an “F” sounds appealing, the harms created by the alternate system far outweigh the few benefits it provides. The United States is falling behind in education to countries such as China and India and, by removing the failing grade, we will only be digging our students into a deeper hole. Second chances may be favorable in certain conditions in life, but schools need to keep the grade “F” in place to motivate students to excel.

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